Dear Denison Students:
I am writing to share some thoughts about the fall semester. Obviously, the overall COVID public health crisis is not where any of us want it to be with the number of COVID cases increasing in many areas across the country. We continue to work with top scientists and public health experts to put plans in place to manage COVID on campus. Those plans continue to evolve as the circumstances and knowledge about COVID change.
I am confident in the work we have done and the plans we have developed. In particular, our partnership with The Ohio State University gives us access to reliable and fast testing that many colleges don’t have in place. And our size, location and financial resources put us in a favorable place, especially compared to larger universities and smaller less financially secure colleges. Our faculty and staff have been hard at work to make sure we can provide a great education to students who return to campus and to those who make the choice to be remote. And we have the pieces in place to pivot when we need to do so.
This year will be fluid and unpredictable. It will require us to continuously assess and respond to whatever is in front of us. Our plans are evolving and will continue to do so.
Our goal is to provide every student with a life-shaping liberal arts education and to do it the Denison way - personal, engaging, and focused on quality. As part of this, we want to welcome back students who want to return to campus. But we need to do so within the framework of keeping the health and of our students, faculty, staff and local community as the top priority. We also want to provide students studying remotely a great year, using all the tools at our disposal.
I want to be as clear and blunt as I can possibly be with the Denison community. There is risk. We have done extensive planning over the summer and put a lot of measures into place. But, no amount of planning can eliminate all risk. How much risk exists depends on how we act when we open the campus back up. If we want to keep campus open, we all need to come back to campus ready to proactively do our part.
To minimize risk as much as is possible, it’s important that every student who decides to be on campus understands that it won’t be a normal year. Until the COVID crisis is over, things on campus will be different. But different does not mean it can’t be meaningful and important, just in a different way. Here is what you can expect:
- Academics: Your classes will be a mixture of pedagogical styles. Some of your classes will be fully remote, some will be in-person and many will be a mix. Faculty and staff are in a range of places. They are all excited for the year to start, but some are weighing being back on campus as they consider their own health and that of members of their household. Regardless of where you are (campus or remote) and where your faculty are (campus or remote), faculty are working to make sure classes are delivered at the highest level. Classrooms will require masks and social distancing which will feel different, at least initially. We will use outdoor spaces as much as possible. Many of your faculty will be reaching out over the coming two weeks to give you a better sense for how they are planning to teach this fall. Everything is fluid. If cases of COVID increase, faculty are likely to do more remote. If cases decrease, faculty may very well decide to do more in-person work. We need to be pragmatic and respond as the external environment changes.
- Campus Life: Student organizations will meet. We will have social life (again, it will be different, including using outdoor spaces as much as possible and with health measures observed). Athletics will continue to condition and train and participate in leadership and other development and activities. We are working on ways for the performing arts to be active and we are considering holding outdoor and virtual performances. For students who are remote, we are working on ways to make sure you are engaged and involved. You are going to live and work in a world that is more virtual, and this year will give us a chance to develop those skills. More information on campus life will be shared soon, including a campus compact that we will ask every returning student to sign.
For all of this to work, we will need to be diligent about adhering to healthy behaviors and about containment should that be necessary. We will need to practice social distancing, symptom monitoring, mask wearing, hand washing, and testing. We will need to isolate students who test positive and quarantine those who have been in close contact with those who test positive. If we have an outbreak, we may need to quarantine an entire residential hall. If the outbreak is large enough, we might implement a “stay in your residential hall” order for two weeks for part of the campus or even the entire campus, while classes continue in an entirely remote format. We will need to remain agile as the situation remains fluid.
- Care for the Community: We owe it to ourselves and to the local Granville community to manage risk. As such, we are going to ask students to stay mostly on campus. Our goal is to keep the campus open while minimizing the spread of COVID. This means trying to create as closed a system as possible. We realize students will go into Granville and some will have good reasons to go further off campus, but we really need students to do this only when necessary. I can’t say this strongly enough: Our ability to minimize risk depends upon every member of our community making decisions that are best for the entire community. The liberal arts is partially about educating and inspiring people to live in ways that contribute positively to the larger world. We will need to practice that this fall.
If students make the decision to come back to campus, you need to be 100% committed to doing what we are asking to minimize risk to yourself and the rest of campus. The more everybody does their part to manage COVID, the closer to normal the campus will feel. If a few people decide to do something irresponsible, it could lead to a group, residential hall, or campus being quarantined. Faculty and staff are working remarkably hard to open the campus and that means we need students to join with us to help manage risk.
I believe we can make this work. When we are on the other side of this, I believe we will feel pride in the way we rose to the challenge and found a path forward. I believe smaller groups and new forms of teaching might even bring us closer together this year in really good ways. It will not be easy, and it will not be without risk. But it also comes with the reward of being together, learning together, and confronting challenges together. The liberal arts is about developing a range of skills, values, and habits that include creative problem solving, adaptability, perseverance, working with others, and finding hope in a better future. COVID gives us a chance to lean into this year and work on those attributes together.
As the COVID-19 landscape evolves, our plans will continue to evolve. We are remaining flexible and agile and we ask that students and families understand and support any shifts we will need to make. Given the situation in many parts of the country, we are going to make some changes to our plans:
- We are asking all students to limit their exposure by self-quarantining starting August 1. This includes staying home, limiting visitors at home, not sharing things like towels and utensils, and if leaving the house is absolutely necessary, following very strict protocols related to mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing. The more that every student can limit your exposure to others during these next two weeks, the less the likelihood that anybody brings COVID to campus.
- Students who are coming from states with infection rates of more than 15%, also are now required to take and upload negative results from a SARS-CoV-2 RT PCR test, also known as COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within 14 days prior to arriving for move-in. This includes students coming from Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, and Texas. Students from those states should have received an email from us on Tuesday about this new requirement. Here is information on how to upload results.
- Also, students must be monitoring symptoms and logging them daily via our Wellness Portal. This video explains the process. You should be receiving daily emails/texts reminding you to log in and report. If you are not receiving emails/texts please contact the Wellness Center at Wellness@denison.edu.
I am purposefully trying to paint a pragmatic picture of the year to make a point. We are giving everyone a choice and we are committed to giving everyone the best year we can give you. If students are up for the responsibilities and rewards of being on campus, we welcome you back. And if this is too much or more than you want to take on, we can give you a great semester remotely. If you are interested in studying remotely, please complete this form. Everybody has a choice. But please know, if you come back and exhibit behaviors that suggest you are not willing or able to do what we ask of you to manage COVID, we will ask you to leave.
Lastly, this year matters. It is a quarter of your Denison experience. You can’t afford to waste that time. Whatever decision you make, please take advantage of the opportunities we are making available to you. You might consider reading (or rereading) the letter that I sent to students last August about how to best take advantage of Denison. This is the part that I care most deeply about. Social life is going to be hard under COVID, but we can all use this time to focus on our education. You have opportunities this year to focus on your academic and co-curricular education in ways that go beyond what most college students have and that will positively shape the rest of your life. Take advantage of the opportunities and worry less about the things we can’t do right now.
Along those lines, some exciting developments for students:
- Lectures: We will be doing lectures, concerts and other events. Some of these will take place outside and a lot will be online. We are exploring some new formats that might make these more interactive than they have been in the past.
- Silverstein Hall: Our new senior apartments are just about done and will be ready for students to move into in August.
- New Stairs: Getting to and from the Arts Quad will be easier with new stairs. This is part of our ongoing work to deepen our commitment to the Arts. For those of us who walk those stairs regularly it will make navigating campus easier.
- New Academic Programs: This fall we will launch two new majors: Global Health and Politics and Public Affairs (PPA). Students majoring in Global Health will learn to evaluate the patterns, data, and societal issues associated with understanding and developing responses to diseases and other health issues. PPA is our unique approach to political science and will expose students to broad knowledge of both the theory and practice of politics, international affairs, and public policy.
- The Red Frame Lab: After some wonderful success this summer with new programs including consulting projects for businesses and non-profit organizations, The Red Frame Lab will continue to make more opportunities available to students to learn design thinking and to work on your entrepreneurial skills.
- Career Exploration: The Knowlton Center is hard at work to make sure we can help students in a tough job market. We are putting new resources and programs in place, including a series of new programs we will run for students in January. Look for some exciting announcements in the coming weeks about the expansion of The Knowlton Center.
Probably like most of you, I am both excited and a little anxious about the year in front of us. I am intently focused on managing the health risks for members of our community. At the same time, I want to make sure that we provide the life-shaping education you deserve. I believe we can make this work. We can make it work for those who are coming to campus and for those who decide to stay remote. Doing this will require us all to be flexible, adaptable, and realistic about the opportunities and challenges as they present themselves this year.
COVID is hard. None of us want to be in this situation, but it is the situation we find ourselves in. We will do what Denisonians always seek to do: take the situation we have and make it work for us.
There is not a college in the world that I would rather be at right now than Denison. I am proud to be a Denisonian.
Adam S. Weinberg